Labor Unions

This page was last updated on April 22, 2004.

Introduction Union management strategies
Labor unions are businesses Union management and politics
Stuck in the past, kind of Union management wants to hide their activities
Not your great grandfather’s union Union management can’t force you to pay for their political activity
Union management stands up for workers – not Why union management opposes right-to-work legislation
Do as I say, not as I do A black eye for western Pennsylvania
Union management special privileges  


“The worst crime against working people is a company that fails to operate at a profit.” – Samuel Gompers

If you expect union-bashing content, you will be disappointed.  I will be critical, particularly of union management, but I avoid mindless bashing and name-calling.  I don’t believe business owners – or anyone for that matter – are angels either.

Though I’m critical of labor union management, labor unions can serve a useful purpose when union management isn’t manipulating them for purposes completely unrelated to collective bargaining.

Nothing speaks more about the failure of union management to keep unions relevant than the fact that less than 9% of U.S. private sector workers are union members.  Even 9% is an overstatement because many of these members were forced to join because of closed shop/monopoly bargaining laws.

Unions had an honorable goal in the infancy of the labor movement.  Because the industrial revolution was relatively new, there were few worker protections in law and business owners frequently took unfair advantage of their largely undereducated employees.  Workers formed unions to give workers a credible voice with which to negotiate with owners.  Much of today’s labor law is the result of the early labor movement.  Most of that legislation is good, but much of it allows labor management to trample worker rights.

In fairness, unions are not alone in having their founding ideals morphed into something far less honorable.  How often during history did we see Christian beliefs hijacked to further the economic, political, and social power of the elite?  Today we hear Islamic extremists telling us their murderous exploits are in the name of Allah.

When I refer to union management beliefs, I don’t claim every single union manager has these beliefs.  I know there are a few managers at the local level who are trying to do the right thing.

Labor unions are businesses

Make no mistake about it; labor unions are businesses.  They are the equivalent of “sports agents” for the masses.  Union management’s business is to collect taxes (dues) from members so the money can be donated to friendly (read: Democrat or liberal Republican) political candidates.  In return for the donations, union management gets political power.  For today’s union management, worker advocacy is merely a nuisance required to extract dues from worker paychecks.  In some cases, union management takes at least 1.5% of a worker’s paycheck!

Stuck in the past, kind of

Whenever anyone questions the relevance of unions in today’s world, we get stories from the 1800s and early 1900s.  In truth, the positive successes of the labor movement past – such as modern labor laws – have made irrelevant a lot of what union management tries to sell today.

We even hear about the “Steel Police” and violence against workers.  The problem with this is organized employer violence against employees disappeared long ago.  Are there exceptions to this rule?  Probably.

Today, the organized violence comes predominantly from – or isn’t sufficiently attacked by – union management.  As recently as 2002, the United Steelworkers of America union was fined for violence during a lockout/strike when the violence was captured on videotape.  Union management constantly claims to be against violence, yet they always attempt to negotiate contracts in which violent strikers keep their jobs.

As addressed below, about the only area where union management is not stuck in the past is in core beliefs.

Not your great grandfather’s union

Consider the following quotes of Samuel Gompers.  Gompers was a father of the American labor movement, founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and AFL president for 38 years until his death.

  • “The worst crime against working people is a company that fails to operate at a profit.”

  • “Doing for people what they can and ought to do for themselves is a dangerous experiment.  In the last analysis, the welfare of the workers depends upon their own private initiative.”

  • “Whatever is done under the guise of philanthropy or social morality which in any way lessens initiative is the greatest crime that can be committed against the toilers.  Let social busybodies and professional public morals experts in their fads reflect upon the perils they rashly invite under the pretense of social welfare.”

  • “The workers in America adhere to voluntary institutions in preference to compulsory systems which are not only impractical but a menace to their welfare and their liberty.”

  • “Compulsory sickness insurance for workers is based upon the theory that they are unable to look after their own interests and the state must interpose its authority and wisdom and assume the relation of parent or guardian.  There is something in the very suggestion of this relationship and this policy that is repugnant to free-born citizens.”

  • “When government undertakes the payment of money to those who are unemployed, it places in the power of the government the lives and the work and the freedom of the workers.”

  • State unemployment insurance programs “are not advocated for the good of the workers.  They are advocated by persons who know nothing of the hopes and aspirations of labor which desires opportunities for work, not for compulsory unemployment insurance.”

  • “The continuing clamor for extension of state regulatory powers under the guise of reform and deliverance from evil can but lead into greater confusion and more hopeless entanglements.”

  • “Regulation of industrial relations is not a policy to be entered into lightly – establishment of regulation for one type of relation necessitates regulating of another and then another, until finally all industrial life grows rigid with regulations.”

Can you imagine anyone in today’s union management saying these words?  Today positions like those above earn the labels of anti-union and right-wing extremist.  Who would have thought Samuel Gompers was a right-wing extremist?  Of course, Gompers was anything but a right-wing extremist.  The fact that Gompers’ quotes would be considered those of a right-wing extremist by today’s union management is an indication of how far off the course union management strayed.

The guiding principle of the AFL during Gompers’ tenure was to concentrate on collective bargaining with employers and on legislative issues only when they directly affected the job.  Pursuit of broad political and social goals was left to others.  This approach is in stark contrast to today’s union management.

When communism and socialism cropped up, the followers gradually infiltrated labor union management.  This contamination of the labor movement with communist and socialist ideals continues to this day.

Union management stands up for workers - not

When it comes to a choice between union management and workers, union management will pick itself over workers.  Here are several examples.

  • In response to a worker who expressed opposition to compulsory unionism, a letter-to-the-editor author stated no one is forced to pay union taxes (a.k.a. dues) as long as they are willing to change employers or careers.1

  • In another letter, a member of union management referred to workers who dislike forced union taxes as “smart alecks.”2  These aren’t very pro-worker responses to a legitimate grievance.

  • The management of the United Steelworkers of America union, along with nine steel companies, was slapped with a federal consent decree in 1974 to address “discriminatory hiring, promotion, assignment, and wage policies directed against women and minorities.”3  The discrimination was determined to have affected 40,000 minority and women employees.  If union management doesn’t have respect for workers, how can union organizers claim union membership provides respect in the workplace?

  • The EEOC has charged AK Steel – Butler with racial bias.  The EEOC charges “that the steelmaker condoned offensive language and graffiti and the open display of nooses, swastikas and Ku Klux Klan videos at its plant in Butler.”4  If the charges are valid, what was union (Butler-Armco Independent Union at the time) management doing?  Shouldn’t union management have filed grievances on behalf of the offended workers long before workers had to involve the EEOC?  If the offending employees were union members, couldn’t union management have handled the problem internally?

  • Union management has been successful in making it much harder to certify a union than it is to decertify a union.  To certify a union, you only need a majority of voters.  To decertify a union, you need a majority of employees.

  • As an example, let’s assume your business has 100 employees and someone wants to certify a union.  To get the National Labor Relations Board to conduct a certification or decertification election, at least 30% of workers must sign a petition.  To certify the union, a majority of voters must approve.  For example, if only 10 out of 100 employees vote, only six votes would be required to certify the union.  To decertify the union, a majority of workers must approve.  In our example, 51 workers would need to approve.  In summary, in this example it takes as few as a couple of votes to certify a union but 51 to decertify a union.  In my mind, you should need a majority of employees for both certification and decertification.

  • Union management constantly talks about “corporate greed” but doesn’t mention its own corruption.  You can see a list of recent criminal enforcement actions against union management at the U.S. Department of Labor web site.  You can also get union corruption updates at the National Legal and Policy Center web site.

Do as I say, not as I do

The following excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article says it all.5

“Far be it from us to deny that even in the best of capitalist societies there lurk heartless employers who ride roughshod over collective bargaining agreements and refuse to recognize their employees’ unions.  An administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board recently issued a ruling pointing to one of them: the Kansas AFL-CIO.

“That’s right.  When Connie Stewart was presented with a pink slip by the Kansas AFL-CIO after 26 years of faithful service, she didn’t go quietly.  Ms. Stewart protested that the layoff violated not only her seniority but the collective bargaining agreement with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), the in-house union that represented her.  Whereupon her bosses responded like something out of ‘Norma Rae’: What union?  they asked.  We don’t see no union.

“Though the Kansas AFL-CIO had been collecting dues on behalf of the OPEIU for decades, its officials argued that the union really didn’t represent Ms. Stewart and the other employees.

“In any event the judge quickly saw through it all, pointedly noting that he found the explanations given by the Kansas AFL-CIO’s executive secretary ‘labored, unconvincing, and utterly deceitful.’ It does our heart good to see another union-busting boss brought to justice.”

You can find the judge’s decision on the NLRB web site.

Union management special privileges

As reported by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), government has granted union management 10 special privileges.6

  1. Exemption from prosecution for union violence.

  2. Exemption from anti-monopoly laws.

  3. Power to force employees to accept unwanted union representation.

  4. Power to collect forced union dues.

  5. Unlimited, undisclosed electioneering.

  6. Ability to strong-arm employers into negotiations.

  7. Right to trespass on an employer’s private property.

  8. Ability of strikers to keep jobs despite refusing to work.

  9. Union-only cartels on construction projects.

  10. Government funding of forced unionism.

You can find the details behind these privileges at the NRTW web site.

Union management strategies

When they can’t sell their product on its merits, union management employs coercion tactics when possible.  When unions were truly relevant, they had no trouble organizing workers by going directly to the workers.  Today union management resorts to coercion from the top, or “top-down organizing.”

  • Union managers tell unionized businesses they can avoid labor trouble if they put pressure on suppliers to favor unionization of their workers.  This has been popular in the auto industry.

  • Union managers pressure businesses to sign so-called neutrality agreements.  Union management tells everyone that in these agreements businesses simply agree to remain neutral with respect to union certification.  In practice, these agreements tend to turn the business into a union ally.  For example, the business agrees to provide space for union organizers to woo workers, to provide workers with time off to speak with organizers, to provide an address and phone list of workers, and to accept a card-check count instead of a secret ballot.

  • Project labor agreements force non-union businesses to unionize – or provide specified union benefits – in order to be allowed to bid on government projects.

Union management and politics

Because they share common socialist beliefs, union management and Democrats are natural allies.  With respect to the workplace, union management believes in the supremacy of the union over the business – and the worker.  Likewise, Democrats believe in the supremacy of government over the individual and the private sector.  Therefore, legislation supported by union management tends to further the Democrat agenda and vice versa.

The symbiotic relationship of Democrats and union management is revealed most by campaign contribution records.  In 2002, union management used $3.6 million of worker wages to make political contributions to candidates for Pennsylvania office.  88.8% went to Democrat Party candidates.

I don’t know the political orientation of union members, but I doubt 89% of rank-and-file workers are Democrats.

Here’s an example of union management trying to subvert a Republican primary election.  Transportation Communications International Union management sent union members a letter encouraging Democrats to switch temporarily their party registration so they could vote in the Republican primary for incumbent Sen. Specter in order to defeat Rep. Pat Toomey.7  Union management wants to make sure that if a Democrat doesn’t win the Senate seat in the general election, the liberal Sen. Specter will.  I believe this is disgraceful behavior by both union management and Sen. Specter.

Union management wants to hide their activities

If you are a union member, did you know about your Beck rights?  You are in the minority if you answer “yes.” Not only does union management tend not to tell you about your Beck rights, union management works hard to make sure no one else does either.  In 2002, President Bush issued executive order 13201 that required companies with federal contracts to inform workers of their Beck rights.  Predictably, union managers sought and initially won an invalidation of the order.  The order was upheld on appeal, however.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Labor updated union reporting requirements so workers would have a better idea of how union management spent worker dues.  The previous rules were so lax that union management could spend millions of dollars of worker wages on expenses labeled simply “miscellaneous.”  Predictably, union management went to court to have the new rules overturned.  The very same people who were screaming for greater visibility into business financial records because of “evil corporate greed” went to court to avoid visibility rules for unions nowhere near as stringent as those for other businesses.  Union management cried that the new rules would be too expensive to implement.  Don’t believe it for a second.  Union management believes the less workers know about union financial activities, the better.

Union management can’t force you to pay for their political activity

In Communication Workers of America v. Beck (1988), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled union management could not forcibly collect dues for activities not directly related to collective bargaining.  This decision applies whether or not you work in a closed shop.  The basis of the decision is that union management violates workers’ First Amendment rights when union management forces workers to contribute to candidates and charities they oppose.  For example, if you are Republican, why must you contribute to Democrat candidates via your dues?

As a result of the Beck decision, a worker can refuse to pay dues in excess of that required to support collective bargaining activities.  To make sure there are no shenanigans, union management must provide a detailed audit to show how dues are spent.

Quoting Thomas Jefferson, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”

Why union management opposes right-to-work legislation

“The workers in America adhere to voluntary institutions in preference to compulsory systems which are not only impractical but a menace to their welfare and their liberty.” – Samuel Gompers

Union management would like workers to believe right-to-work laws remove the workers’ right to unionize.  This is nothing but an untrue scare tactic.  RTW laws actually give workers more rights with respect to unions.  Perhaps the biggest change RTW laws provide is that closed shop/monopoly bargaining laws are repealed.  That is, if you want to work at a company and a union represents some employees, union membership is not an employment condition.  This means the worker can choose to join an existing union, try to get another union to represent him, or he can represent himself.  Union management fears workers with the right to choose individual representation.

Union management opposes RTW legislation because it transfers power from union management to the workers.

A black eye for western Pennsylvania

Democrats and union management like to tell us western Pennsylvania doesn’t have a bad labor reputation.  The local media join in this counterproductive denial.

  • In 2002, a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local raised a stink when Beaver County used some jail inmates to perform low-skill work.8  The county had to pay the local for work its members didn’t do.

  • In 2003, the same SEIU local raised another stink when high school volunteers cleaned up part of a park the union workers never touched.9  This time the flap made national news.  To make the problem go away, the county agreed to give union management veto authority over any inmate or volunteer work on county property.

  • When there was to be a union certification election at the Medical Center - Beaver during 2002, union “organizers” showed up uninvited at employee homes.10  It’s not too tough to figure out the message union management was sending to workers.

  • During the certification process, local politicians took their turn at ritual bashing of Medical Center management.11

  • In 2003, an SEIU local blocked Centre Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh during rush hour to draw attention to their disagreement with the University of Pittsburgh.12  Later in the year, another local repeated the stunt in the Green Tree area of the Parkway West.

  • Beaver County signed a project labor agreement (PLA) with the Beaver Building Trades Council to buy labor peace.  As reported in a Beaver County Times article, the PLA also prevents qualified contractors for bidding on projects and increases how much county taxpayers pay.13

  • Consider the following quote of a site-selection consultant in BusinessWeek referring to foreign automakers choosing U.S. factory sites.  “They might say, ‘We don’t want to be within 60 miles of an existing unionized plant.’  You don’t want to walk into the hornet’s nest if you’re looking not to get stung.”14

  • Dominion Peoples workers went on strike January 20, 2004.

  • When Verizon and its unions were in negotiations during 2003, we heard union commercial after commercial telling us how badly Verizon treated its employees.

  • In early 2003, we saw advertisements and heard commercials from the Communication Workers of America (CWA) union slamming Comcast when they were in negotiations.  Later in 2003, workers voted to decertify the CWA.

  • In March 2004, SEIU Local 3 picketed and demonstrated in downtown Pittsburgh despite an agreement it signed not to picket.15,16,17  The NLRB ruled the picketing and demonstrating was improper conduct.  Part of the demonstration was the dumping of full plastic garbage bags in front of the business.  What was the SEIU upset about?  A non-union subcontractor won the bid over a union subcontractor to clean a building.  As a result, janitors who worked for the previous contractor lost their jobs.  To gain sympathy, the SEIU called this “locking out” the previous janitors.  As usual, a local Democrat politician was on hand to support the improper demonstrations.

  • Continuing their disruptions in April, “About 130 marchers organized by the SEIU flooded into the building’s lobby about 8 a.m.  They sat or lay down, covering all open floor space.  Building tenants gingerly stepped over them to make it to elevators and their offices.”18  Police arrested 36 demonstrators.

  • In an op-ed piece, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Bill Steigerwald presents information indicating union management interference was a major contributor to cutting short the heyday of movie making in Pittsburgh.19

  • According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Pennsylvania accounted for 50% of all teacher strikes nationwide from 1993 – 2002.20  In two years, Pennsylvania hosted over 73% of teacher strikes.  The lowest figure for this period was 22%.

Whether you support union management or not, you are in denial if you don’t believe western Pennsylvania has a poor labor reputation.  This deservedly poor reputation affects both existing and new businesses.  Existing businesses must think twice about expanding or staying in the area.  New businesses looking for a home think twice when they realize the odds of regular labor unrest here are higher than in other parts of the United States.

We can’t begin to address this problem until we admit there is a problem.

1. Letter to the Editor - Get another job; George Nalevanko; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; September 7, 2002.

2. Letter to the Editor - Union choice; Rheba Haefner Salac; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; September 14, 2002.

3. Milestones: 1974; U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

4. EEOC alleges bias at AK Steel, Jefferson pain center; Jim McKay; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; September 10, 2003.

5. Very Hard Labor; The Wall Street Journal; March 25, 2004. The WSJ site requires a subscription.

6. Big Labor’s Top Ten Special Privileges; National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Inc.

7. Union Urges Penn. Voters to Choose Specter Over Toomey; Associated Press;; March 24, 2004.

8. Union challenges use of inmate labor; Bob Bauder; Beaver County Times; July 11, 2002.

9. Union won’t relent on grievance over student club’s park cleanup; Bob Bauder; Beaver County Times; August 14, 2003.

10. Letter to the Editor - Union not a good idea; Elaine Scarsella; Beaver County Times; September 19, 2002.

11. Rallying cry - Medical Center workers consider unionization effort; Jonathan Evans; Beaver County Times; September 17, 2002.

12. Insurance protest ends with 17 arrests; Jim McKay; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; May 31, 2003.

13. Contract requirement boosts project costs; Bob Bauder; Beaver County Times; September 25, 2003.

14. Autos: A New Industry (p.104); Joann Muller, with Kathleen Kerwin and David Welch; BusinessWeek; July 15, 2002.

15. Janitors take to streets, but not to clean up; KDKA Radio; March 12, 2004.

16. Janitors talk trash about job losses; Derek J. Fuchs; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; March 13, 2004.

17. Board says janitors can’t picket Centre City; Pittsburgh Business Times March 12, 2004.

18. Janitors arrested in protest; hunger strike ends; Jim McKay; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; April 9, 2004.

19. Union snuffs golden age of movie-making; Bill Steigerwald; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; March 21, 2004.

20. School employee strikes doubled in 2002-03 school year; Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

© 2004 Robert W. Cox, all rights reserved.